Security Interview

Once a candidate passes the written exam, the QEP, and the oral assessment, State provides congratulations and a conditional offer of employment.  There are still two more hurdles to clear, however, before one is officially listed on the register.  After much prodding, nine viles of blood, and unspeakable other testing, the medical clearance process is now complete for me and my family.  I received my certification for worldwide service on June 2nd.  Thus, the final hurdle is the top secret security clearance.

Every foreign service officer deployed in the field must have a TS security clearance.  While many of a foreign service officer’s duties are routine, particularly in the first couple of years, often they involved the use or production of classified information.  State indicates that the clearance process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on the individual case.

The process begins with the fingerprinting immediately following the oral assessment.  The handful of us that survived to the end of the day were still a little loopy from the good news while we waiting to be fingerprinted and processed.  It seemed odd to go from the stress of the day-long test to the exhilaration of passing to what felt like being booked before a night in jail.

After the requisite week to transfer paperwork and fingerprint cards across the street in D.C., diplomatic security takes over and runs a series of database checks.  They run everything they have (which is a lot):  financial credit, FBI, etc.  Once they have the reports, a lead investigator sifts through it all, along with the candidate’s responses to 90+ pages of answers to questions on the security clearance application (the SF-86), and produces a memorandum.  The memo outlines areas that require clarification, interviews that need to be conducted, and any additional areas for investigation.  The lead investigator then assigns out all of those tasks to field agents around the world.  The team can be as few as a few people to a dozen or more.

I received a call on Friday from a local investigator who said he had been assigned to conduct my in-depth interview and we arranged to meet at my house this morning.  We ended up sitting down for over three hours at the kitchen table with my dog standing guard (OK, she was probably just waiting to see if perhaps we were going to eat something and drop some crumbs on the floor, but comforting nonetheless).

Despite my active imagination, it was all very routine stuff.  We walked through each of my responses to the SF-86 written application and I provided contact information for some additional references.  It looks like they need two references for just about anything I’ve done over the past decade and once used for one purpose, the reference cannot be used for another.  There wasn’t much that needed in-depth explanation (reward for living in the same house for a decade, maintaining a monogomous 23-year marriage, having stable employment, etc.).  I explained why I took a new last name days after my 21st birthday (my wife and I both changed our names … long story) and never bothered to get a court order (turns out, at least in California, there’s no need to — just get a new driver’s license without fraudulent intent and all other forms of identification will eventually be acquired).  I explained that all of my “foreign contacts” were former law firm partners.  I provided additional documentation of my legal consulting and freelance photography business.  I dug up evidence of the name change by providing cover sheets from my 1985 and 1986 tax returns showing the name transition assigned to the same social security number (don’t throw any tax returns away, ever).

In the end, the local investigator was incredibly thorough, but very pleasant, and the process was much less traumatic than the blood draw and other medical tests.  Now, we wait for other interviews to go forward….

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